China is entering a “brand-new historical era” in polar development, a senior Chinese official said in commentary published on Wednesday, a day after President Xi Jinping boarded a Chinese icebreaker and attended the signing of an agreement with Australia to strengthen their collaboration in Antarctica.
“Today, we are already standing at the starting point of a brand-new historical era, of striding toward becoming a polar-region power,” the official, Liu Cigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration, wrote in China Ocean News.
In an overview of China’s development in the polar region, starting from the country’s dreams of carrying out polar exploration in the 1950s, Mr. Liu noted that the first two Chinese scientists to embark on an Antarctic research trip traveled as part of an Australian expedition.
That fact seemed particularly compelling as Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia oversaw the signing on Tuesday of the memorandum of understanding to strengthen ties on joint work in Antarctica.
China was a late starter in polar exploration. But since 2005, the country has made rapid strides in increasing its presence in Antarctica and “seeking to increase its level of engagement in Antarctic governance,” Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on China polar policy at the Wilson Center in Washington, wrote on the center’s website.
In the agreement on Tuesday, China and Australia said they would establish a mechanism to work together on diplomacy, science, logistics and operations and would set up a committee that would meet every two years to discuss cooperative actions and exchanges, according to a statement released by the Australian government.
As part of the agreement, the countries reaffirmed their commitment to the existing Antarctic Treaty System, which, among other factors, bans the extraction of minerals.
After the signing ceremony, Mr. Xi visited China’s only icebreaker, currently anchored in Hobart, the capital of the Australian island of Tasmania, where he viewed a photography exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of China’s first polar expedition. The ship, called Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, regularly docks in Hobart for restocking, as do ships from other countries on similar missions. It is en route to China’s 31st Antarctic expedition.
Mr. Xi and Mr. Abbott also held a teleconference with Chinese and Australian scientists stationed at their respective bases in the South Pole. Australia has three permanent research bases on the Antarctic continent; China has four and plans to build a fifth by the end of 2015. The United States, Britain and Russia are among other countries with permanent research bases on the southern continent.
Mr. Liu, the Chinese official, wrote in his commentary that 2015 to 2030 will be “an important period” in China’s efforts to become “a polar expedition power.”
“Marked changes” are currently underway in polar politics, Mr. Liu said, adding that other countries are increasing their involvement, paying attention to the Arctic waterways and the issue of oil and gas resources.
In Antarctica, “some major countries” are determined to revitalize their influence, Mr. Liu said, and China must not be left behind.
“Based on national needs and the forefront of international polar science,” he said, “we should further strengthen our strategic research, clearly identify strategic objectives, formulate a national polar policy and a long-term development plan, strengthen legislation and improve and perfect institutional mechanisms.”